Surface area : 603700.0 km2
Population : 48000000 inhabitants
Bring back: dolls, paints, amber necklaces, Carpate wood carvings, rugs and embroidery, simple paintings. In Kiev, the enormous market held every weekend in the Republic's central stadium is well worth a visit. Traditional crafts are sold there: boxes, plates and spoons made from painted wood, pottery, embroidery and woolen blankets. Shopss are normally open between 9am and 6pm from Monday to Friday (closed at lunchtime) and 9am to noon on Saturday. In Kiev, many shops remain open over the weekend.
Ukranian cuisine is simple, based around grains and cooked vegetables such as potato, cabbage, beetroot and mushroom. Amongst local specialities: Borchtch (soup made from white cabbage, red beetroot and other vegetables), Pampouchy (flour pancakes cooked in water, sprinkled with garlic and then fried), Tovtchenyky (poached fish served with fried onion), Kholodets (pork, game or calfs foot served in jelly), Goloubtsis (mince wrapped in cabbage leaves), Varenyky (large ravioli garnished with potato, fromage frais or meat). In terms of desserts, Cherry and plum based cakes are very popular. The majority of restaurants are very reasonably priced, though the best food is to be found by eating with a family. Drinks: Vodka (obviously) but also excellent Crimean red, white or rose wines.
Located within the former USSR, marked with Polish influences, the Ukraine has maintained important cultural traditions that differ greatly from those maintained in Russia. The large majority of Western Ukranians do not feel that they belong to the same cultural group as the Russians, preferring to align themselves with Central European traditions. To the East of the country, the national feeling is much weaker, as the majority of citizens speak Russian and maintain very strong links with the old fatherland. Today, the Ukranian government is engaged in the promotion of the Ukranian language and culture by placing a great emphasis on the Ukraine's rich artistic history. We should not forget that the most beautiful Cossack songs and dances were born in the Ukraine. Ukranian music has its roots in the ancient oral tradition of the Cossacks - the heroic exploits and fantastic rides.... In rural areas, folklore-based dances and chants are still very evident, particulalry in the sabre dances and Cossack hymns. The Kiev festival (end of May) is a must-visit in order to best appreciate the vivacity of Ukranian folklore. The Ukraine is a very religious country, where Easter and Christmas are celebrated with pomp and enthusiasm. The Ukraine is proud of its religious heritage; its churches with their wooden architecture and topped with domes, onion domes and multiple cupolas, home to beautiful icons, mosaics, coloured frescoes and illuminated manuscripts. Even within the cities there is still a strong sense of family, and it is often the mothers, the "babouchkas", who are central to the household. In a country that has long gone without, helping one another becomes a way of life. Visitors to the Ukraine cannot fail to be touched by the warmth of the welcome they receive, alongside the hospitable nature of the population. Always ready to help, and posessed of an insatiable curiosity with regard to foreigners, the Ukranian people are exceptionally generous towards their guests.
We would always opt first and foremost to stay with locals. This way there is less hassle and it is much more pleasant than major hotels. This allows you to meet the people of the country, who are very warm and welcoming, as well as to build long term friendships. We would not hesitate to go off the beaten track of the major towns to really get to know the Ukraine. The rural Carpatian and Crimean villages seem to come from a different era. We also reccommend attending an Orthodox mass in one of the byzantine churches of Kiev. Mass takes place on Sunday mornings. It is also worth spending an evening at the Lviv Opera.